• Wed, Oct 30 - 4:30 pm ET

Rihanna’s New Tattoo Is A Cultural Misstep

Photo via Twitter

Photo via Twitter

Hey, Rihanna? Your new tattoo is really pretty, but we won’t be surprised if some people find it offensive. In fact, we’ll be on their side.

After an 11-hour session with famous tat artist Bang Bang McCurdy, Rihanna acquired a black ink tattoo on her hand, wrist, and arm, about which McCurdy tells E! News, “The inspiration was henna art, and we wanted something really decorative, feminine and sexy.”

But what does henna mean in Rihanna’s life? Is it okay for the Barbadian singer to permanently wear a symbol of a culture she doesn’t belong to? Some South Asian bloggers say no.

Tumblr user feministilicious wrote in 2011, “You are completely erasing the cultural significance of henna by saying you are expressing your femininity or spirituality or whatever. Henna is a very sacred part of Hindu weddings.” She later added, “I, an Indian girl, feel oppressed by you appropriating henna. Why do you feel compelled to pick and choose what parts of the South Asian culture to take and create new meaning for?”

In the same discussion, Tumblr user jhameia wrote, “It’s not so much about political correctness as it is the thoughtlessness of the more powerful in using something that marks a less-powerful culture as inferior. I personally adore henna, but I wouldn’t just use it for kicks when, even across different cultures, it serves specific purposes.”

Rihanna is certainly not the first celebrity guilty of cultural appropriation. Kim Kardashian received a lot of flak for trying on a full burka in Dubai, Karlie Kloss walked the Victoria’s Secret runway in a headdress, and Vanessa Hudgens has been criticized for donning items from every culture under the sun. Luckily, though, it seems like people are consistently fighting back and educating the perpetrators about the harm they cause when they play dress-up in another culture’s things.

Maybe look into getting that one lasered off, RiRi.

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  • MehndiArtist

    OH good gods! … First, who cares about this has been piece of trash … second, I know MANY people that have mehndi designed tattoos. If these “Indian” girls were really offended, they would have used the proper terminology and not called it “henna”. Everyone seems to be offended about everything these days. How about just getting over yourselves and growing up?

    • Amber Dawn

      Why is OK to call other women trash?

  • MFNYC

    Stop it. That’s rubbish. Henna decoration is traditionally worn by women in Arab (Saudi, Emerati, etc), North African (Morocco, Sudan, etc), South Asian (Pakistan, India, etc) and even Afghan cultures… It’s primarily worn at a time of celebration; one’s own wedding, or that of a relative or friend – or when celebrating Eid (end of Ramadan). It’s worn by women of all ages, even children, married or unmarried. Sometime’s it’s worn just to be festive and fun, without an occasion, though this is less common. It’s no big deal that she’s decided to get her tattoo done this way. Really. No, really.

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  • Sabrina

    Ok. Where does this end? Are we supposed to be stuck in our culture’s traditions of dress and style for our entire lives after birth? No, because that’s ridiculous. Not everything has to be offensive. Getting a tattoo that was inspired by henna designs because you think it is beautiful and it means something to you is MUCH different than painting your face black for Halloween. Seriously.

  • mmalicious

    This is ridiculous. Should I laser off everything I have that isn’t ‘American’ artwork?

  • Anonachocolatemousse

    Wasn’t she just getting flack for having a “traditional” tattoo done on her hand in New Zealand? Looks like the henna one is covering that design.

  • Jen Pires

    WOW. People are offended by EVERYTHING THESE DAYS. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

  • Christine

    Well if that is the case, why is it ok to get it done at the street fair.

  • http://frumpy-to-fab.blogspot.com/ Aimee

    Dear god, who cares?! Oh my god, is someone wearing the American flag on a t-shirt? GOOD LORD TAKE IT OFF PLEASE! No, no no. It’s all fine, people.

  • JJJJJ

    If that’s the case, please people, don’t tattoo Chinese symbols on your body. It’s for my culture only.
    The same goes with Japanese Kanji and Korean. Heck, even Latin.
    What about those tribal tattoos so many people have?
    Why is this even news?

    • Dee

      Seriously. Does that mean all my favorite J-rockers have to stop wearing rosaries? What about the references to God/Jesus/Joan of Arc/etc in their songs? And eyeliner? EYELINER IS ONLY FOR WOMEN, DAMMIT, HOW DARE THEY OPPRESS ME WITH THEIR SEXIST APPROPRIATION. (Not a single Asian person I have ever met has been offended by kanji tattoos. Amused, sometimes, but not offended.)

  • AIsabel

    This blog is beyond intense lately with all the posts about racism, cultural offenses, etc. Its actually getting pretty ridiculous, it was CLEARLY stated the tattoo was inspired by henna art, so what? People cant be inspired by anything they consider beautiful from other cultures? She simply acted upon her opinion of it being so pretty, or beautiful, she wanted it permanently on her body. What if she had chosen a Mandala? Underneath and right next to it, there’s a tribal design made in the style of the Maori. She also has a couple tattoos picturing Egyptian figures, like Queen Nefertiti, and goddess Isis. What about those? Im not a big fan of Rihanna, however its not hard to notice she loves body art, and loves different styles, shapes, and languages, and she is in all her right to be inspired by, interpret, and mix elements of any culture she desires, as a way of expressing herself, just like a chef can be inspired by a regional type of gastronomy, imitate it, modify elements of an ethnic dish, or combine it with another from an entirely different culture. Whatever.

    “Hey, Rihanna? Your new tattoo is really pretty, but we won’t be surprised if some people find it offensive. In fact, we’ll be on their side.”

    You wouldn’t be surprised because you’ve showed an abnormal sensitivity to anything racially-related. Anyways, who are you to judge what offends a culture so different to yours? Based on the opinion of one or two persons, tumblr users? Your seriously need to chill and stop acting as if she tattooed a swastika on herself.

    • Merytle

      Well put

  • cassymartinez

    Waiting for the “Rihanna wakes up, offends millions” article to be eventually published by you guys…

  • katie

    This is incredibly ironic considering that this post shows up right before a “How to be a sugar skull for Halloween” post. I’m all for talking about cultural appropriation, but don’t lambaste it and then promote it in two consecutive posts.

    • Misenhammer

      Whoa!! Great point, didn’t catch that one!

      I confuse myself. I am offended by people taking traditional Native American symbols and making them into cheap underwear. I’m not offended by this, I guess maybe because henna has already long been appropriated by popular culture via street fairs, etc? I’m not entirely sure why I feel both these opposite sentiments simultaneously. I need to sit and figure out my opinion, I guess.

  • En

    Oh. My. God. Rihanna is not “appropriating” henna. One would never use the word “sacred” to describe it in South Asia. It is part of the everyday here. To say that you would never use henna “just for kicks” is ridiculous.

    As for the bit about Rihanna and her tattoo artists choosing to go down this route because they found it “decorative, sexy and feminine” – that’s what any South Asian girl would describe henna art as too.

  • Noor

    Self-righteous and ignorant. Your article has made me close to popping an artery.

    I read the Tumblr post quoted here and what jhameia has to say (re: henna being a symbol of “oppression” etc) is really her own argument and not what the average South Asian female would say. Not at all.

    Let’s get this out of the way first: “henna” is merely the plant used for making henna paste, “mehndi” is the term used for the paste itself and the decorative art form. To refer to the latter as “henna” is ill-informed.

    Mehndi is a symbol of celebration. It is not reserved solely for “auspicious occasions” (read: only your own wedding) and does not have any religious affiliations either- it is used by millions of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Wiccans everyday. It does not traditionally have “symbolic” patterns – mehndi artists (and I use the term loosely here because really, anyone can apply it) come up with the patterns on the fly. They usually consist of flowers, paisleys, dots, and lots of swirly lines, all purely for aesthetics.

    I think you’re being far, far more appropriative of this culture than Rihanna is. You really haven’t the slightest clue of the significance of this particular cultural motif yet have written an article about how one ought to be up in arms about Rihanna’s alleged ignorance of it. I think she has a far better idea of how its meant to be used.

    Do not tell me how to react to something from my own culture ever again.